Religious Left Rerun: CNN Offers Another Faith 'Debate' to Democrats

Update (13:40 EDT-- see bottom of post for reaction from Faith in Public Life official)

Last June, CNN allied with the left-wing religious group Sojourners for a 60-minute "debate" on faith for Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and John Edwards. Falling neatly in line with the Democratic aspiration to appear more friendly to religious voters, each candidate was interviewed separately for about 15 minutes on their faith. How soft was it? Obama was never asked anything about his minister, Jeremiah Wright. CNN's Soledad O’Brien claimed at the show’s end that it would eventually be balanced out with “a similar forum on faith and politics with Republican candidates.” It never happened.

TVNewser reports that CNN is now doing it again, granting time to Democrats in association with another left-wing religious group called Faith in Public Life. In a 90-minute program aired from Messiah College in Grantham, Pennsylvania, Clinton and Obama will each get about 40 minutes in separate interviews with CNN's Campbell Brown and Newsweek editor Jon Meacham. So what about 40 minutes for John McCain?

CNN merely stated that he declined the invitation -- to appear at a forum sponsored by a group that thinks the Religious Right is unfairly "dominating public discourse" with talk about abortion and homosexuality and "ignoring issues of justice and the common good." If CNN weren't acting like an adjunct of one party, it would arrange a time and a place for McCain to expound on the social and religious issues as well, without expecting him to attend events sponsored by religious groups who favor his defeat.

According to a CNN press release,the Compassion Forum will feature "wide-ranging and probing discussions of policies related to pressing moral issues...including poverty, global AIDS, climate change and human rights."

The board chairman of Faith in Public Life is Unitarian Universalist minister Meg Riley. In a recent blog post, she praised Obama's speech on race and decried the controversy over Reverend Wright, the prophet:

I remember years ago when an African American friend shared an encounter with a white colleague which she experienced as racist. I replied with some convoluted explanation of how she might have misunderstood the colleague. “Oh, stop being so white!” she exclaimed with annoyance. “Could you just listen to me?”

Listening turns out to be incredibly hard for many of us who are white to do—to just listen. The derision with which Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s prophetic words are greeted reflects that very unwillingness. “No,” we respond too often, albeit unconsciously. “We won’t listen, because we don’t have to. We’ve got the pundits, the judges, the rulers on our side. Why listen to you?”

If we’re lucky, we can learn to let the voice of faith speak up in response to the impulse of privilege, and say, “It’s hard, but yes, I want to listen. I need to listen. I can’t be whole unless I listen.” And after we listen, I hope that we will be able to then say, “I need to speak up and be an ally. I want to speak up and be an ally. I can’t be whole unless I am an ally.”

This suggests that the Wright questions will not be encouraged. Watching CNN help the Democrats advertise themselves again as faith-friendly makes one wonder if CNN isn't looking in the mirror, saying in devotion to the Democrats, "I can't be whole unless I am an ally."

Update (Ken Shepherd | 13:40 EDT): Dan Nejfelt, a Communications Associate with Faith in Public Life contacted us to explain that his organization "made every effort to encourage Senator McCain to attend, and the invitation remains open." The Compassion Forum, Nejfelt added "transcends political ideology, and we hope for bipartisan participation."

Mr. Nejfelt's e-mail:

Dear editors and Mr. Graham:

I read your blog post this morning about Faith In Public Life's Compassion Forum at Messiah College. I appreciate that you saw fit to comment on the forum and wish to bring to your attention information that may change your impression of it.

Although only the Democratic candidates have thus far accepted the invitation, we made every effort to encourage Senator McCain to attend, and the invitation remains open.

The bipartisan spirit of The Compassion Forum is evident in the support The Compassion Forum from across the ideological spectrum. Sen. Rick Santorum and Gov. Mike Huckabee have given statements of support for the event. The Compassion Forum Board includes prominent conservative religious leaders such as Southern Baptist Convention president Dr. Frank Page; Dr.
Paul Corts, President of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (and former Bush administration Justice Department official); and Palmetto Family Council president Dr. Oran Smith.

The Compassion Forum also discusses a bipartisan agenda. Global warming, HIV/AIDS relief, poverty, torture and abortion are all issues with which conservative and progressive religious people alike are deeply engaged, and all will be discussed at the forum.

I hope you'll see fit to post this clarification of The Compassion Forum.
It transcends political ideology, and we hope for bipartisan participation.


Dan Nejfelt
Communications Associate
Faith In Public Life

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